The night sky is full of thousands upon thousands of stars, nebulae, galaxies, star clusters, double stars, planets and of course our Moon. Some things are simple to spot with the naked eye, but the majority of objects are impossible to see with your eyes. The obvious easy ones are the Moon and the larger planets. You can even see the closest galaxy to us Andromeda, with your eyes and some of the largest nebulae from a dark skies location. The constellations are also really easy to see if you know what you’re looking at.
The objects that we cannot see are the majority of galaxies and most nebulae. The first way to find things is to look up. you can see plenty of amazing things with just your eyes. As mentioned above - the Andromeda galaxy can been see from a dark location.
If you are not familiar with the night sky then you can buy books and sky atlases that can aid you to find what you are looking for. These are particularly helpful when pre-planning a session or observing trip. You can also buy a planesphere which shows you the night sky for any given time of the year and is usually the size of an A4 piece of paper.
Mobile Phone App:
A better portable option is to download a planetarium app to your mobile phone or tablet and use this to navigate the night sky. These can also be used to plan viewing/imaging sessions. Planetarium software is also available for PC’s and laptops for those who wish for a fuller experience. Click here to visit the links page for links to planetarium and mobile phone apps.
Red-Dot Finders & Finderscopes:
With almost all telescope purchases you will receive an accompanying red-dot finder or a finderscope. The latter is just a small telescope and the red-dot finder works by projecting a red dot or target on to a clear screen. Both a red-dot or finderscope will need to be aligned with the main telescope before use. The benefit of using a red-dot finder is that you can still see the sky around the finder which makes finding your target a lot easier especially when star-hopping. Finderscopes also suffer from image reversal which can make finding your target tricky.
Once you have planned your viewing/imaging session there are various ways to centre the chosen target in your telescope. The most common is to star-hop. By using your chosen method above find a bright star near to the target and find this star in the night sky. Now imagine the sky is a huge dot-to-dot puzzle and find a path using bright stars to get as close to the intended target as possible. You can do this either with your eyeballs then move the telescope to the intended position or through your telescopes red-dot finder and move from star to star that way.
The simplest way to find your target is to have a bit of software do it for you. This is called telescope remote control. You will need a motorised telescope mount with GoTo capabilities. The correct mount to PC cable or a WiFi connection (if your mount has this capability) and software to Control the mount. There are various makers of software that are designed to control every element of your setup from the mount itself through to filter wheels/auto focus control and even full dome control. If you wish to know more about remote telescope control please see the tutorial on setting up a Mini-PC here.